Welcome to the Seventh Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation/analysis/revelation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see past entries in the series here:

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: Warmth


In Chapter 19 “Hamburgers, Skyline, Deadline,” Watashi and the Girl in Pink have hamburgers, make it to the old man’s office building, and then prep for another spelunking adventure…after ominously discovering that there are 36 hours left until something bad happens.

A couple of interesting things of note in this chapter. There is one callback to the watermelon metaphor that gets cut by Murakami for the Complete Works version. After Watashi tells the Girl in Pink that he doesn’t think he has any special qualities, she insists that his “emotional shell” is what makes him special and gives him the ability to shuffle. It helped protect him from the procedure they performed on him. Here is the paperback version after that:




“So this guard is basically like the rind of a melon?”

“Put simply, yes.”

“So,” I said. “This antibody or shell or rind or whatever it is, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?”

I’ve borrowed some of Birnbaum’s language from his translation, which is very close to the Complete Works version:


Except Birnbaum keeps the “acquired line” in translation:

I thought this over. “This antibody factor or guard or whatever, is it an innate faculty? Or is it something I acquired?” (194)

Not a massive change, but a missed callback to the melon stuff from earlier. Always interesting to see what Murakami is doing.

Birnbaum works some of his translation magic as always. When the pair get to the office, it’s been ransacked just as his apartment was, and all the girl’s clothes are strewn across the floor, which gives Birnbaum the chance to work with this line:


An orchestration of pink in every gradation from light rose to deep fuchsia. (195)

And there is also a missed translation…because everyone is fallible. The device to repel the INKlinks (yamikuro) is still working, despite it having been knocked around:

“It’s all right, it works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. Lucky for us, because the mechanism’s so simple, one little whack could have broken it.” (195)

But the Japanese suggests that it could not have been broken so easily:


“It’s all right. It works fine. They probably thought it was a useless contraption. And the mechanism’s so simple that a little bump on the head wouldn’t break it,” she said.

An alternate translation for that last line might be: “And the mechanism’s so simple that it would take more than a little bump to break it.”

But all these are just trivia, for the most part. The most interesting cut has to do again with the Girl in Pink, who becomes far more interesting this chapter. She’s always been overly cute and sensual and a bit frisky, but in this chapter she shows us exactly how smart and skillful she is. She’s learned just about everything from the old scientist: how to dodge taxes, trade stocks, run things for him. She’s completely financially independent. In what seems like a foreshadowing of Creta Kano’s invitation to Toru, she invites Watashi to run off to Europe. The Girl in Pink even suggests that once abroad he could be “reborn” as a “first-rate human being” (一流の人間). Watashi’s response from the Complete Works:


“Hmm,” I said.

Birnbaum’s translation leaves a vestigial tale of the original paperback text:

“Hmm.” Not a bad offer. (192)

In the original, the narrator deliberates a good bit longer and in doing so captures the mindset of many Murakami protagonists:


“Hmm,” I said. Not a bad offer. This incident had put me in a tight spot as a Calcutec, so a leisurely life abroad did have its charms. However, I wasn’t confident I could ever become a first-rate human being. Usually first-rate human beings become first rate because they have strong conviction that they can become first rate. There aren’t many human beings who became first rate just caught up in the current of things, the whole time thinking they weren’t first rate.

Not exactly critical information, but kind of the arm-chair philosophy/wordplay that has generated fanboys and girls for Murakami. And endearing, for sure…at least to me. It builds up the narrator as more of an underdog.

This passage feels like Murakami digging into his subconscious. He basically jetted off to the Mediterranean shortly after publishing this book, and he worked on Norwegian Wood while he was there (1985-1987 or so). He had a decent readership by the time Hard-boiled Wonderland was published, but I bet he wondered what level of success he’d achieve. He published Norwegian Wood in 1987 while still living abroad, and when he came home, he was a celebrity. Quite a rebirth.

Review of Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage


Well, I finally finished reading the new Murakami novel. I read half back in April when it came out, took a long break to finish my thesis and get a job, and then finished the second half on my daily commutes. It took another month or so to digest the thing, put the two halves together, write the review, and eventually come to a sort of understanding about it. I think I liked it. You can read my review over at Neojaponisme.

My reaction reminds me a lot of the way I responded initially to Norwegian Wood: the ending surprised me and I felt like I didn’t “get” it, there wasn’t enough “weirdness” like in other Murakami books, and I didn’t appreciate the basic character interactions.

Colorless Tazaki Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage isn’t on the same level as Norwegian Wood. Murakami doesn’t capture a period the way he did in that book (even if the emotional landscape of the lead character does reflect attitudes in post-3/11 Japan). In fact, he still feels out of touch with the times a little; Tsukuru is too quick to rely on the phone when most 36-year-olds would send a text/email or post on a love interest’s Facebook wall (“Hey Sara, I know it’s 4am and I didn’t want to disturb you but I was just thinking about that green dress you wear – it’s awesome! Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!”).

The book is far better than 1Q84, but Tsukuru reminds me a lot of Tengo. He’s introverted, passive, and at times incredibly frustrating; so frustrating that when I was reading I occasionally found myself pressing my temples with my fingers so hard that I nearly brained myself. But I think that’s kind of what Murakami was going for. Tsukuru is a wounded, flawed character who finds it incredibly hard to love before he loses his friends and even more so after the fact. His actions are supposed to be frustrating. I’m sure he wishes it was easier to put himself out there.

It’s no surprise that Tsukuru finds pleasure and comfort in the ordinary, the everyday, the predictable—hard, artificial, inhuman things like Chuo Line trains coming and going on a rigid schedule at Shinjuku Station. There are scenes in the book where he just sits and watches them come and go.

I’ll be interested to see how the translation goes. Thanks again to Matt Treyvaud, David Marx, and Ian Lynam for the edits and art. Matt made an important change in the text of my review—initially I’d written Tsukuru’s friends’ names as Ao, Aka, Shiro, and Kuro, but he changed them to Blue, Red, White, and Black, which, for me, totally changed the feel of the review and made me realize that Phillip Gabriel might translate the book that way. I’ll be interesting to see if he does so.

(Graphic courtesy of Ian Lynam and Neojaponisme.)

Mountain Climbing

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: Jurassic Sapporo, Gerry Mulligan, All Growns Up, Dance.

One more post this year, just a quick one due to schedule challenges at Morales Headquarters.

We fast-forward a few chapters. Boku has been hanging out in the hotel, still longing for connection with someone, so he sort of tortures Yumiyoshi a bit. After one incident where he bothers her at the front desk, she calls him in his room to chastise him.

“It’s very upsetting. I told you that. When I’m on duty, I get tense. So please, don’t do anything like that again. You promised not to stare too.”

“I wasn’t staring. I was just trying to talk to you.”

“Well, then, from now on, no more talking like that. Please.”

“I promise, I promise. No talking. No staring and no talking. I’ll be quiet as granite. But you know, while I’ve got you on the line, are you free this evening? Or do you have mountain-climbing lessons tonight?”

There was the sound of a dry laugh, half of it silence, and then she hung up.” (99)

Boku here is poking fun at Yumiyoshi’s “swim club” (in Japanese スイミング・スクール), which previously prevented her from going on another date. In Japanese, this has just a minor cut:








彼女は壁に書かれた字を読みあげるみたいに乾いた平板な声ではははと言った。そして電話を切った。 (150)

I’ll go ahead and translate the whole thing even though Birnbaum includes almost everything (much more successfully than I do). The cut comes close to the end:

“I get nervous. Didn’t I already tell you? I’m always really nervous while I’m working. So I don’t want anyone bothering me. And you promised that you wouldn’t stare either.”

“I wasn’t staring. I just tried talking to you.”

“Well, don’t talk to me like that again. Please.”

“I promise. I won’t talk to you. Won’t stare or talk to you. I’ll be as still and quiet as granite. So, anyway, are you free tonight? Or do you have your mountain-climbing class tonight?”

“Mountain climbing class?” she said and sighed. “That’s a joke, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a joke.”

“Sometimes I don’t get jokes like that. *Mountain climbing* class. Ha. Ha. Ha.” She laughed dryly like she was reading each Ha off a board on the wall where they were written. Then she hung up.

This is a typical Birnbaum cut. He’s going for speed and humor and, in doing so, he uses a translation sandpaper of a courser grit, knocking off the edges here and there. Both his and Murakami’s version help characterize Yumiyoshi, but they do so in different ways. Murakami reveals her naiveté and her sense of humor, whereas Birnbaum cuts to the chase, creating a kind of snarkier version.

I’d be interested to track this throughout the whole book and see how the balance works out. Sadly, though, the Nobel Prize announcement is this Thursday, so it’ll have to wait until next year! Unless this is the year he wins. He’s getting 2/1 odds right now, which is the highest he’s ever been. See y’all at the announcement!

And on a side note, I’ve been using asterisks to symbolize italics within my block quotes because I’m still trying to work out the CSS of my new theme. (The standard setting has all blockquote text in italics, which was clearly programmed by someone who is a computer science major and not a liberal arts major. I managed to prevent that from happening but the result is that I am unable to italicize anything.) The Japanese is, of course, 傍点, which I’m still not sure can be accomplished in CSS…anyone know? It’s difficult to tell, but I bolded the original Japanese.